Slowest Growing Trees (And Why They Grow So Slow)

Japanese maple (acer palmatum) in autumn colours

As you are probably very aware, trees are a pretty common plant around the globe, no matter your location. Save for the arctic circle and the driest of deserts, you are likely to find trees somewhere in your proximity.

Trees grow at very different rates, which is to be expected. However, trees like the Eastern Hemlock, Canadian white cedar, Don Egolf Redbud, Bur Oak, Japanese Maple, Purple Lily Magnolia, and Serbian Spruce are among the slowest growing. These trees have slow yearly growth rates between 10″-24″.

To discover more about these trees and how you can affect their growth time, continue reading!

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Do Slow-Growing Trees Live Longer?

There is a great deal of research on this subject, much of which deals with specific intricacies and nuances of how tree growth differs across species.

Research has shown examples of this in practice.

One situation shows slower radial growth rates of a tree correlates to the tree living much longer than another species who may grow much faster but will almost certainly live for less time. 

Does that make sense? 

If not, think of it like this:

The trunk of an eastern hemlock tree gets wider rather slowly, which is the radial growth rate. This tree is a good example of a tree that fills out pretty slowly while living for quite a long time. 

In fact, its lifespan can get up to 800 years and this tree does not even reach maturity until it has lived for nearly 300 years. 

Talk about slow-growing and long-living!!

An eastern white pine, however, has a trunk that fills out much more quickly. Unfortunately, as follows, this tree has a shorter overall lifespan.

Different Types Of Tree Growth

Deforestation and forest valuation - man measuring the circumference of a tree with a ruler tape

As explained by the University of Tennessee Extension, tree growth occurs in two different ways. 

“What are these different ways?” you may ask. Let’s dive in!

Primary Tree Growth 

When growth happens in a way that makes the tree larger and taller, it is primary growth. This sort of primary growth manifests as increasing height and length and occurs in small areas individually. 

This growth stems from as deep down as the roots of the tree and high up as the shoot tips. 

So- primary growth means what? Increased height and length of the tree and its branches!

Secondary Tree Growth

Secondary growth is when growth increases the thickness of the stems and branches of a tree. 

Among the stems and branches, roots also increase in diameter as a result of secondary growth.

Secondary growth means… Increased thickness in the tree and its various appendages!

Now that we have a better understanding of what growth even looks like in trees, let’s get to the important part. 

What are some trees we can use as an example of this newfound understanding of tree growth?

8 Most Common Slowest Growing Trees

Alright, it’s here! The moment you have been oh so patiently waiting for: some of the slowest growing trees.

Here are eight of the slowest growing trees out there, their growth rate, and some other information that might come in handy if you have any of these species. 

Tree TypeYearly Growth Rate
Eastern Hemlock12-24”
Canadian White Cedar13-24”
Don Egolf Redbud12”-16”
Bur OakLess than 12”
Japanese Maple12”-24”
Purple Lily Magnolia6”-12”
Chinkapin Oak10”-24”
Serbian Spruce12”

Like anything, there may be some variability here. Some individual trees may grow a little faster, or even a little slower. Maybe a tree not on this list is growing just as slow, even though it is not technically a ‘slow-growing tree.’

What we will discuss here regarding the yearly growth rate of each tree is the primary growth, mainly focusing on the increase in the tree’s height. 

That being said, let’s finally turn the spotlight on the trees.

Eastern Hemlock Tree

The Eastern Hemlock is a great first tree to discuss. If you remember, it was such a wonderful example that we already discussed it above. 

It deserves a little more attention than we gave it, though, so let’s talk about the Eastern Hemlock, shall we?

The USDA’s Forest Service informs us that an Eastern Hemlock tree measuring 193 cm (76 in) in d.b.h. and 53.3 m (175 ft) tall is among the largest recorded. Imagine that – one of the slowest growing trees getting to be one of the tallest! 

Maybe there’s some merit to that old saying, “slow and steady wins the race,” after all. 

If you recall from above, this tree can sometimes take between 250 and 300 years just to reach maturity. If a few hundred years put a tree at the start of its adult life, just imagine how slow yet fortuitous this species is. 

Eastern Hemlocks can live up to 800 years on average, with a record age recorded as 988 years… which is pretty darn old!

Eastern Hemlock Tree Growth Rate

The growth rate of these slow yet steady trees is pretty unbelievable in and of itself. 

It can take an Eastern hemlock 100 years to get to 2.5 cm in d.b.h, or diameter at breast height. This common measurement of a tree might take other, faster-growing trees (like sugar maple, for example) about 10 years to reach that point. 

So, the Eastern Hemlock is about 10 times slower in its growth than many average North American trees.

The average growth rate in height per year does not exceed 12 to 24 inches. 

Canadian White Cedar Tree

Green hedge of white cedar trees, nature, background against the background of the blue sky.

This evergreen tree is in no rush to shoot into the sky. 

The Canadian White Cedar is a softwood tree and a very adaptable one at that!

Its wide root system allows for this cedar to grow in places that other trees may not find as hospitable, like rocky areas or other difficult spaces. 

The Canadian White Cedar grows in places other trees like maple and oak cannot, which goes to show it has merit.

If you have ever heard of ‘arborvitae,’ it’s the same tree! Funnily enough, arborvitae means ‘tree of life’ and that is very reminiscent of the adaptability and survival instincts of this species. 

Canadian White Cedar trees can live up to 700 years on average, not quite beating out the Eastern Hemlock but certainly giving it a run for its money.

Canadian White Cedar Tree Growth Rate

The average growth rate of the Canadian White Cedar is 13 to 24 inches per year if conditions are good.

There is a Canadian White Cedar that is 4 inches tall, but over 100 years old. Just another reminder individual growth rates and factors play a huge part in what we hear about certain species. 

Maybe you’d heard of that tree and figured the species must be the slowest growing. While it grows at a slow-moderate speed, it is important to do research into the entire species.

Don Egolf Redbud Tree

A tree suited for warmer climates, the Don Egolf Redbud tree (also known as the Chinese redbud) is both compact and beautiful. 

Its vibrant pink flowers are closely clustered and bloom into an unmistakable show of color in the spring months. 

Some might even mistake this tree for a bush because of its short height, even at full maturity. 

The Don Egolf Redbud tree goes against the commonly held statement that slower-growing trees live for longer. With a lifespan of only 50-70 years, this redbud species is pretty short-lived. 

Unfortunately, this species is also pretty susceptible to diseases, which can significantly decrease the lifespan even more.

Don Egolf Redbud Tree Growth Rate

It takes this tree 15 years to reach its initial mature height of about 10 ft tall. This means the Don Egolf Redbud grows between 12 to 16 inches per year.

Not the slowest rate out there, but certainly not the fastest, either.

You could always purchase this tree as a more mature plant in order to get the beauty of the redbud in bloom without the hardship of bringing the plant up from a sapling.

Bur Oak Tree

The bur oak is rather adaptable, even a magnificent tree to fit into an urban setting with a lack of other green space to utilize.

Wildlife love the acorns, and so do some people who know how to use them properly!

If you are interested in learning more, check out our piece on 4 Reasons Why Squirrels Eat Acorns (& Their Favorite Type).

Now, as we talk about slow-growing trees, this one is giving all the others a serious run for their money. 

With a lifespan of 200-300 years minimum, this oak tree has plenty of time to make its mark. When your life is that long, there is no need to rush!

Bur Oak Tree Growth Rate

The bur oak grows at an extremely slow rate of less than a foot per year. Though it grows at a slow rate, its lifespan also allows it to reach up to a soaring 80 feet tall. 

Yes, you read that right- the bur oak grows so slowly that it might be lucky to hit 12” of growth in a year.

It’s all about balance, right?

Japanese Maple Tree

There are so many variations of the Japanese Maple, almost all of which are very slow-growing.

The reddish-purple leaves add yet another spectacular pop of color during the spring and summer months.

The mature height of a Japanese Maple tree is about 30 feet tall, which can be reached in about 12 years, give or take.

With the Japanese red maple, since there are so many variants of the species, it is hard to nail down exactly how long it will take. The important thing to know is this is a slow-growing species overall.

Although these trees are very beautiful, be warned they make some of the most helicopter seeds! If you want to learn more about these trees and others similar to it, check out 4 Maple Trees That Produce The Most Helicopter Seeds.

Japanese Maple Tree Growth Rate

The Japanese Maple’s growth rate spans from less than a foot per year to just at the two feet mark. 

That’s right – another tree whose yearly growth has the potential to be less than 12”. With a yearly maximum growth of 24”, we can likely assume a Japanese Maple tree will grow around 16” per year.

Purple Lily Magnolia

Blooming lily magnolia magnolia (magnolia liliiflora) in the botanical garden.

Similar to the Don Egolf Redbud, this tree adds a great level of color to any space. 

As another tree you might mistake for a bush. You could easily prune a Purple Lily Magnolia and maintain a certain shape or style. One more benefit of slow growth is the nature of this tree is pretty well set up for styling. 

Whether you are looking for a pretty shape in a sculpture garden or a well-manicured pop of color in your front yard, the Purple Lily Magnolia could be the tree for you.

Again, not the longest-lasting of trees, but this is certainly worth its ability to keep a shape.

The Purple Lily Magnolia tree should last around 100 years, so a few new generations will also benefit from your decision to plant a purple lily magnolia.

Purple Lily Magnolia Tree Growth Rate

Getting to a mature height of 10 feet takes the Purple Lily Magnolia 10-15 years, so it grows between 6 to 12 inches yearly.

Chinkapin Oak Tree

This tree is wonderful for wide-open spaces like large properties, parks, and even to add something to the empty lot around a business in need of some sprucing up.

A species that needs around 6 hours (at least) of direct sunlight a day, the Chinkapin Oak tree is most definitely well-suited for sunny regions.

Use the tree as a shade tree on a hot day, while allowing it to have everything that it needs to flourish. 

All critters will love this tree for the acorns it produces, but you can even use those acorns yourself.

​​You can take a look at our guide on 9 Amazing Fallen Acorn Uses here.

Really, this tree is good for so many purposes. Its slow growth only allows it to fully develop its assets for use by humans, animals, and more!

The Chinkapin Oak lives for well over 100 years on average.

Chinkapin Oak Tree Growth Rate

The Chinkapin Oak tree grows anywhere between 10 to 24 inches yearly, so you can expect this to be a pretty slow-growing addition to your backyard. 

Trees like this are pretty cool if they are planted when kids are little. They will get to grow up alongside the tree. Comparing growth between little humans and little trees will make this slow-growing species seem like it is just shooting into the air!

Already have this species on your property? Great! It’ll stick around for quite some time. 

Serbian Spruce Tree

Serbian spruce - latin name - picea omorika

Similar to the Japanese Maple, the Serbian Spruce tree grows slow, though this species lacks the variants that the Japanese maple so proudly boasts. 

Serbian Spruce trees are fantastic for backyards and other residential spaces, areas not quite urban but also in need of a bit of sprucing up. Just remember, when a tree grows, so do its roots. 

For this reason, planting a Serbian spruce in an area too compact could lead to property damage (even if that just means a sidewalk) a few years down the road.

Living around 60 years, it’s hard to imagine, but the Serbian Spruce tree gets up to 30-35 feet tall in some cases. 

While the growth rate of a Serbian Spruce ranges from less than a foot to just over two feet yearly, it is most common to see this species grow at the slow end of the spectrum.

Serbian Spruce Tree Growth Rate

This one is pretty simple because the standard growth rate of the Serbian Spruce is 12” per year.

Now, after learning about these trees, a foot does not seem so crazy anymore, right?

How To Help Trees Grow Faster

While all the trees we discussed here today have genetics to thank for their slow growth rates, there is always something you can do to support your tree, at the very least. 

While any of the following methods will not make your bur oak suddenly grow 2.5 feet per year, or your purple lily magnolia miraculously get taller, they will certainly promote healthy growth.

It all begins at the roots, and early in a tree’s lifespan. Next, you will want to maintain your tree throughout its life by trimming if needed, adding fertilizer to the soil, and making sure your tree has plenty of water to sustain it.

Do all of those things seem pretty basic to you? Great- you are probably already well on your way to growing a strong, healthy tree- no matter the species. 

If this is news to you, or you want to brush up on your general knowledge of tree maintenance- follow along for a little while longer

It never hurts to refresh your knowledge!

Water Your Tree Frequently To Promote Growth

One of the most important things when taking care of any plant is making sure it has enough water. Most trees should be able to obtain and retain the proper amount of water, but this is not always a case. 

Say, for example, the area you live in is facing a drought. You do not want to waste water, but in order to keep your tree from completely dying, try to add a little extra water.

You could also try something like the Greenscapes Tree Watering Bags. They hold up to 20 gallons of water and slowly release the liquid over 6 to 8 hours. This allows your tree to get proper hydration without wasting any extra!

Perhaps a better example is you notice the soil around your tree becoming dry, though nothing is particularly amiss in your environment. Take a moment and water your tree!

Heat of the summer? Water your tree!

Trees are adaptable and can survive many environmental hardships, but if you have the power to help them out along their journey- why not take it?

A happy tree is a healthy tree, and your yard will look all the better for it. 

Give your summer visitors a chance to comment on how well groomed your purple lily magnolia or how deep the green of your oak’s leaves are. (You can thank us for the reminder later!)

Fertilize The Soil To Aid Tree Growth

If you are a regular reader, you will be familiar with us talking about soil and fertilizer oh so often. Like, all the time. 

The simple truth of it is fertilizer is one of the most beneficial resources you can provide a plant with. 

Say it with us though… fertilizer is not plant food.

Fertilizer is… what?

When used with soil and water, fertilizer acts as a way to help plants use all aspects of the nutrients they are already receiving, while getting some supplementation to those main nutrient sources. 

In the same vein, trees need some vitamins and nutrients in their systems, too. 

Giving a tree that extra boost helps it focus on growing tall, wide, strong, and healthy above all else!

If you have an oak tree, check out our guide: How to Fertilize Your Oak Tree (7 Simple Tips)

That’s A Wrap!

Well, we hope this wasn’t as slow of a read as the growth of those trees.

For what it’s worth, if you’re looking for a fast-growing tree and stumbled here instead, you will know what not to look for as you begin your search. 

If you were here for this exact reason – to see which trees glow slow but live long, or which species may be more manageable to craft and shape, we hope this helps!

Remember, not every individual tree is going to be the same. One Japanese Maple may have a very wide truck while another is taller and thinner. 

Maybe your Don Egolf Redbud gets a little taller than expected, or not quite tall enough. 

Each tree is unique, and while it helps to know what to expect, part of the process is getting to learn as you grow.

Thanks for spending some time with us, and good luck as you continue along your own tree journey!

Conversely, if you’d like to check out some of the fastest growing oak trees, take a look at our article: 12 Fastest Growing Oak Trees: Growth Chart!

References

Bryan A. Black, Jim J. Colbert, Neil Pederson “Relationships between radial growth rates and 

lifespan within North American tree species,” Ecoscience, 15(3), 349-357, (1 September 2008) 

Coomes, D. A., & Allen, R. B. (2007). Effects of size, competition and altitude on tree growth. Journal of Ecology, 95(5), 1084-1097.

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